A fantastic lobbed through ball from Mateo Kovacic split the Manchester City defence and found N’Golo Kante who had timed his run to perfection. The World Cup winner and former PFA Player of the Year took the ball down and past Fernandinho with his right foot and squirmed it past Ederson with his left, sending Chelsea fans into rapturous ecstasy.
They were after all just eight points behind Liverpool and after accumulating an impressive twenty four points out of the first thirty six available, a win would have meant they were well and truly in the title race. They didn’t win. Instead, City came back to win 2-1, and the London club’s form has plummeted since, with fifteen points in their next thirty nine, leaving fans and pundits wondering what is wrong with Chelsea.
The truth is, their problems didn’t start there. The transfer ban placed on them by FIFA for illegal transfer of youth players coupled with the departure of club legend and the player who contributed to a massive 49% of their league goals last season, Eden Hazard, as well as vice captain David Luiz, meant the club were seriously lacking in quality and were always going to struggle.
And with four points from their first nine they looked on course to do just that. But then the emergence of youth players Fikayo Tomori, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham and a massive run of seven wins in a row, a run which included an away victory at the Johan Cruyff Arena, meant the club found themselves in a top four spot against all odds, and all their struggles were forgotten in the interim.
Those struggles have been violently shoved back into the spotlight after that loss against Manchester City. Losses against struggling West Ham, Everton, Bournemouth, Southampton and Newcastle have shown a frustrating inability to break down teams which sit back to defend. Against Newcastle they had 70% possession, 10 corners and nineteen shots of which only 4 were on target. Newcastle got the winner with last kick of the game. This lack of a creative spark since the loss of Eden Hazard is glaringly obvious and has led to the club purchasing Moroccan magician Hakim Ziyech, who wouldn’t be arriving till the summer, and being heavily linked with Borussia Dortmund wonderkid Jadon Sancho.
To put things into context, Hazard had the most assists in the league last season with sixteen. Willian, Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi are tied for the most for the club this season with a measly four.
The club’s struggle creatively has led to the over dependence on Tammy Abraham to keep scoring goals like he did at the beginning of the season, and with three goals in his last thirteen, a shot to goal rate of 18% with 41% shooting accuracy and 20 big chances missed, the pressure on him to produce isn’t yielding positive results.
He has still scored 30% of the club’s goals in the league this season despite his dip in form, and Michy Batshuayi and Olivier Giroud, the club’s backup strikers, have a total of one goal between them in twenty one games. This led to Lampard publicly requesting for competent competition for Tammy Abraham in the winter transfer window, attributing the slump in form to inability to convert chances.
“Do we have to have a better shot conversion, yes. I have spoken about that a lot. You can’t say we will definitely sign a striker this month but we are looking because there is a fine line in football. If you don’t score enough goals then you won’t win games.”
Chelsea didn’t get the striker they wanted in January, failing with bids for Edinson Cavani and Dries Mertens, and to make matters worse, overburdened striker Tammy Abraham got injured in yet another disappointing draw against Arsenal and is currently sidelined, joining the recently injured N’Golo Kante, Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi and long suffering Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the hospital room, all players who could make a claim for a starting spot in the lineup. They are now left with two strikers in Batshuayi and Giroud who have a single goal between them this season and two aging wingers with eight goal contributions between them in Pedro and Willian, with fixtures against Tottenham, Bayern(2), Liverpool, Everton and City in six out of their next eight games. It has left fans of the West London club feeling rather blue.
Another major concern Chelsea have is their £72 million pound record signing between the sticks: Kepa Arrizabalaga. The Spanish No 1 has the worst save percentage of any first choice goalkeeper in the league with a save percentage of 53.6%.
He has been in terrible form this season, keeping only six clean sheets out of thirty one in all competitions. This has led to him being dropped by Lampard in the last two games for 38 year old Willy Cabellero, but he hasn’t faired better either, with Chelsea conceding two goals in both games with Caballero making a combined total of only three saves from those games. And their troubles at the back don’t end there. Chelsea have conceded eight goals from corners out of a possible eleven corners faced this season, the second lowest in the division with only relegation-threatened Aston Villa having conceded more.
To top it all off, the few players they do have fit are also terribly inconsistent. Willian, having called for more consistency after a Man of the Match display against Tottenham Hotspur who they play again on Saturday, has no goals and only one assist in his last nine games, all of which he has started because there are no better options.
Left backs Emerson Palmieri and Marcos Alonso both find themselves benched by veteran right back Cesar Azpilicueta because they are too inconsistent to be trusted by manager Frank Lampard. And “Lampard’s son”, wonderkid Mason Mount who has played an incredible 36 games out of a possible 37, starting in 27 and featuring in every Premier League game this season, has only four goal contributions in his last twenty seven games after six in his first ten.
With a crucial run of fixtures coming up and only twelve games to go in the Premier League season, Chelsea have to work to get their injured stars fully fit and back onto the pitch. Lampard should stick with Kepa as he is still the best goalkeeper at the club and Caballero’s form isn’t any better. And Chelsea must have their star players step up to their best level if they want to end the season in the top four. Beating Bayern right now may be a Herculean task, but it is not Sisyphean.
The Blues have beaten the odds against the Bavarians before, and with the right game plan and mentality they can do it again. The Pride of London must wake up and establish their superiority again if they are to end the season on a successful note.
By Nene Afadzinu
The writer is an intern at TV3